Friday, September 27, 2019

Polaroid automatic to manual conversion part two- a quick fix for the DIY addict!

Three years ago I blogged about my conversion of an automatic pack-film camera to a fully manual setup(check out this blog entry for a more thorough how-to: ). It was my first attempt. I was pleased with the results, as it was a camera with personality. It looked like the Frankenstein it was-, a combination of several camera parts with junkyard appeal. In an effort to thin the herd, I sold this lovely little junker. The new owner sent me some great pictures that he shot with the camera. I was proud and glad that the camera gave another joy like it had me.
But I missed that camera. I could toss it in a bag with little regard for its safety( so different from the way I treat my 195). There was also a connection to the fact that I had put my own personal touch to it. I had modified it- tricked it out- like some rat rod car.
I kept busy with other conversions: Two 110 to pack film conversions ( a successful Polaroid Spectra to Acmel Forensics transplant operation later(, and I wanted to have another go at the automatic to manual conversion. I recently bought a small lot of pack film(very expired fp100c) and they threw in a poorly constructed junk conversion from a tired 100 body with bellows that looked like swiss cheese and a lovely 127mm Rodenstock-Ysarex lens.
Tinkering is an addiction, and I have been jonesing for this project. As an added motivation, I will not get to shoot with my 195 for three months. It is on display with a third of my collection in a show about collections in the Kennedy Museum of Art. So I took the lovely lens off of the junk conversion and dumped the rest into a parts bin.
This time, I set about with an aesthetic vision. I still wanted the steampunk rat rod look, but a bit more refined and unified than my first attempt. This one would be shiny metal and black, to go with the lovely lens I lucked into. In the three years since I blogged about my last manual conversion, I have cleaned, tested, enhanced, and sold a couple hundred cameras. This has given me a parts graveyard that would likely be the envy of any Polaroid geek.
I built this new camera on the foundation of a Polaroid 250 Automatic. I swapped out the bellows with a nice black one( for information on how to swap bellows see ) and added a full view Zeiss-Icon viewfinder. Most Zeiss-Icon viewfinders have a tiny viewing port, but there were some 250s that had a larger viewing port for people who wear glasses. I attached a Polaroid #128 timer to the back with permanent double-sided craft tape. You will note that I put it on the right-hand side as you look at the back. My first-timer was mounted on the left side and stuck out against my face when I used the viewfinder- live and learn! I added a cold shoe that I took off a flash bracket with a combination of screws and liquid weld. I gutted the front standard and mounted the 127 lens. In addition to being a very sharp lens that was originally from the Polaroid 110a roll film camera, this lens has the added benefit of the accessories designed for the 110a, like closeup diopters +1, 2, and 4, as well as a yellow filter, polarizer, and a hood!
But the most drastic change was the grip I built into the frame of the camera. Since I no longer needed batteries for my camera, I took off the battery door and the built-in plastic hand grip. A little dremeling later, and I mounted a handgrip from the flash bracket I salvaged. Then I made a custom cover for the whole package out of an automatic 450 cover. The 450 cover is designed for the Zeiss-Icon viewfinder and has the added benefit of a cutout for a cold shoe. I dremeled and folded it so the handgrip would still be accessible even when the cover is closed. I made the cover form fit the new lens by putting on the accessory yellow filter to protect the lens, and slowly coaxing the cover to the shape while getting the cover hot with a heat gun. This is scary, but if you take your time it will work very well. I chose the yellow filter knowing that if I hurt it I would not be too disappointed, but there was no damage to the filter and the camera itself wasn’t even warm. I let it sit for an hour fully clipped in place to make sure it would not return to its original shape.
I found a nice and simple Honeywell flash in black and chrome, and after a bit of cleaning the contacts with an eraser head, it fired up the capacitor quickly. It took me a lot longer to find the proprietary flash cable, though. Thank goodness for my camera salvage! I really wanted it to have the Polaroid #628 light meter, but I didn’t want to use the one from my 195 kit. I have a few broken 628s, so I set about fixing one. This was probably the most time-consuming part! I just took it apart a dozen times tweaking this and that until it was fixed. By the way, this method can work for all kinds of stuff ( The only caveat is that you have to watch out for high voltage capacitors, as they can release deadly energy.).
I am really pleased with the results. Not too polished, but quite the looker. It is also the most ergonomic pack film camera I own, and my new favorite...until my next fix!


  1. Very Nice! Bought a 180 for 10$ had more fun w/ camera than any camera I’ve owned

    1. Wow- ten bucks! That is amazing for such a great camera!